Is it illegal to cheat in online video games? We have the answer

Kenneth Williams • September 12, 13:15

For some hackers, getting banned from their favorite game may prove to be the least of their worries.

Cheating in online games has become a rampant problem. The scourge of cheating extends across all genres, but first-person shooters such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty Warzone, and Valorant tend to have the most issues with hackers. Almost every developer hands out bans to hackers, but some gamers have gotten fines and even jail time for their hacking offenses while gaming. The exact legality of cheating in online games depends on the level of competition and the effects of the fraudulent play.

Can you go to jail for hacking in online games?

The average cheater doesn’t have to worry about a potential jail sentence. For most of the Americas and Europe, there are no federal laws against cheating in standard online matchmaking. Even serial cheaters only have to worry about a potential lifetime ban from the game they cheated in. However, some countries including South Korea and Australia do pursue criminal cases against some hackers. The Korean government has fined one Overwatch cheater $10,000 and sentenced another to a year-long jail sentence.

Some games apply temporary bans that are long enough to function as permanent bans. Dota 2 began issuing 20-year bans to confirmed cheaters and smurfs in 2019. For games protected by Valve Anti-Cheat, Valve dishes out a unique punishment. Cheater profiles have a permanent VAC ban announcement applied to their account, though the exact game in which the player was banned is not specified.

The creation and distribution of hacking programs can also conflict with the law. A Chinese programmer who created a CSGO hacking client was arrested in 2017. In his case, Chinese CSGO publisher Perfect World reported his actions to the police. Valve usually doesn’t pursue such measures against hackers.

Is cheating in an esports tournament illegal?

While the average cheater is safe from the law, professional gamers who cheat may face much more severe consequences. Esports organizations usually unceremoniously dump the offending player from their roster and issue statements distancing themselves from the affair. Esports sponsors have the right to pursure legal action, but the majority of them do not.

Other forms of pro esports cheating, like match-fixing, can also result in governmental interference. An Australian CSGO team wound up behind bars as a result of a $30,000 match-fixing scheme in late 2020. Esports organization Heroic involved Danish authorities when accusing its former CSGO coach Nicolai “HUNDEN” Petersen of sharing strategies with a rival team.

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